19 Ways COVID-19 Is Shaping the Future of Innovation

It’s not all masks and sanitizers. The “coronocoaster” is spawning many valuable new ideas.

Necessity is the mother of innovation. And the ‘coronacoaster’ we’ve been riding has given birth to blue Skype thinking as businesses have stepped up and strapped in. As always, the winners have been the most innovative in responding to changing market dynamics and consumer needs – putting momentum behind ideas that create the most sales energy, scaling production when the time is right, demonstrating cultural resilience in sometimes plummeting conditions and showing agility through the loop-de-loops of competition. 

As we step off the ‘coronacoaster’ and onto (what we hope is) a new Roaring 2020s joyride, it’s critical that businesses innovate in ways that leverage how echoes of the pandemic will remain endemic in the future. The post-demic perspectives we’ve provided aren’t necessarily prophecies, but they are informed by recent Prophet thinking (and doing). Some are old trends that have been potentiated by the virus. Others are new to the scene as a result of the virus. 

So, pour yourself a stiff quarantini and let’s have a malaproper look at nineteen ways COVID-19 is shaping the future of innovation.

1. Birth of Distance 

Space has always been a luxury (especially in service categories), but social distancing has made it a necessity. Expect new environmental innovations that create psychological space as well as physical distance. Expect more in the way of exclusive boxes at events, private dining rooms in restaurants, etc. and other innovations so there is less ‘stranger danger’ from others in one’s immanent domain. 

2. Heal.thy 

There’s nothing like a global disease outbreak to get people to think more about ‘thy’ own health. Expect to see more innovation that plays to real or perceived health and healing from angles ranging from ancient homeopathic wisdom to lab-based neutraceuticals. Even naughty categories like alcoholic beverages are tapping into this trend through watered-down alt liquids and lower proof points that feel healthier to consumers.

3. @Home 

People have been increasing the amount of time they’ve been spending in their homes for some time now (Faith Popcorn coined the term ‘cocooning’ 40 years ago), but the pandemic has created a step-change in making more bodies homebodies. People want to continue to feel at home (especially in times of crisis), so expect to see more demand for home comfort innovations in the coming decade – creating a sense of ‘home sweet home’ instead of a feeling of house arrest. 

4. Mask.aura 

Masks were the fashion accessory of 2020 – and mascara was the beauty product of the year because eyes are visible above the mask. Think about other innovations that help consumers look (and feel) their best in times of potential lockdowns and coverups. What innovations can help consumers manage their self-presentation aura? 

5. Ment.all 

The stresses and strains of being locked up during lockdown are making all types of people more mindful of their mental health. We expect more neurons to fire in this direction as the decade progresses. Innovations that help people manage their day-to-day mental health and/or take their peak performance to a limitless level are a no-brainer. People are going mental for apps, like Happify, to train their brains for positivity. 

6. Mod.u.larity 

Companies and consumers alike need an innovative way to deal with public policy capriciousness. Modularity is part of an ever-adapting answer. Goods and services that serve us well should have the option of being switched on and off and/or sized up and down on-demand. Driving less today? Your insurance bill stays in first gear. More people in your business tomorrow? Your cleaning service rolls in harder and heavier. 

7. Pan.skilling 

The pandemic has required companies and consumers to upskill and reskill in a panoply of ways. The next generation of innovators will be pan-skilled in a way that flexes with agility. We expect new forms of learning innovation to help organizations and individuals to develop these pan-skills. 

8. Part.icipation 

Many companies have experienced mixed results with highly collaborative innovation approaches. We are consistently seeing more effective results by focusing collaborative participation on the most important parts of an innovation process instead of dragging everyone through the end-to-end journey. Think about it as a ‘minimum viable participation’ model to accompany ‘minimum viable product’ design thinking. 

9. Phygital 

Phygital fuses the best of the physical world with the best of the digital world. More advanced phygital experiences are increasingly being demanded as a result of our enhanced sophistication with the digital world under lockdown. The best phygital innovations deliver the 3Is — immediacy, immersion and interaction. The PS5 is becoming more phygital through the augmented haptics it delivers while a gamer is immersed in a digital world. The Nike flagship store in NYC is a phygital temple designed to navigate with your phone – If you like something you see on a mannequin, just scan it and someone runs it over it to you. When it comes to phygital innovation, just do it. 

10. Pivotry 

To ensure a steady stream of dollars in a fluxed-up decade, businesses need to pivot on a dime. Be prepared to rapidly innovate into spaces that are close (enough) to your core competencies and are reachable with a sensible stretch. The way dine-in pivoted to take-out, fast fashion pivoted to masks and ‘essential retailers’ started selling dubious essentials that consumers couldn’t get (offline) elsewhere. 

“It’s critical that businesses innovate in ways that leverage how echoes of the pandemic will remain endemic in the future.”

11. Pop-Ups 

Prime urban real estate is increasingly un or under-occupied. Nature abhors a vacuum and landlords abhor an empty property. We expect more and more innovative business models (and office space for businesses) to be strutting down pop-up catwalks designed with quickie contracts for ephemeral experiences and short-term shops. Here today, there tomorrow. 

12. Purposeful 

Many people woke up during the pandemic and continue to respond well to products and services that demonstrate a full commitment to a purpose – from beauty brands that are more than skin deep to socialpreneurs transforming the meaning of BOGOF to ‘buy one, GIVE one free’. Consider how your innovations can cause a stir with consumers via genuine links with a positive cause. 

13. Screen Standout 

With more shopping moving from the real world to the virtual world and word of mouth becoming the word of thumb, screen stand out is becoming more important than shelf standout. Innovations need to be designed with colors, shapes and materials that look fab on the small screen. Hero beauty shots should eliminate the shopper marketing clutter seen on many packs these days (it isn’t legible on small screens anyway) leaving only ‘extraordinary elements’ and ‘incisive information’ on screen-optimized designs. 

14. Sir.valence 

Big Brother is increasingly accepted if he helps ensure everyone is complying for the collective good. Surveillance and compliance innovation is expected to be built into a host of people processing systems that provide ‘certain.fication certificates’ of a clean bill of health. This will mean a smoother flow of human capital around the world (or around the neighborhood). But Taylorist employers will be counting keystrokes as WFH becomes less of a WTF. 

15. Social.learning 

People are social animals and social networking marched on with a tech-tonic shift during the pandemic. To be successful in the future, all innovations need to learn how to take full advantage of social platforms. Ensure your innovations are leveraging the latest in social seduction and consummation technology to always be within thumbs reach of desire. 

16. Surthrivalism 

Survivalists must be feeling a bit smug about their readiness for the pandemic. Expect more innovation to help people go beyond surviving to thriving in case of further untoward world events. Our 21st Century Archie Bunkers may not all be building bunkers, but many will take smaller steps to honor the Boy Scout motto of ‘Be Prepared’. 

17. Suss.tainability 

Many inquisitive minds have spent their lockdown sussing out Netflix ecomentaries like Cowspiracy and have become even savvier about the importance of living sustainable lifestyles. Innovation in the coming decade needs a sustainability angle – from how it makes a material difference with the materials it uses (or doesn’t use) to the 411 on its value chain that doesn’t raise a 911 alarm. 

18. Touch.less 

People have become conditioned to taking a hands-off approach to their interactions with the outside world. This is because every touch means an opportunity to pick something up (or pass something on). Innovation should consider how to minimize the literal ‘touch-points’ in the user experience (especially for products that are shared or taken outside the home). 

19. Tr.eats 

The self-treat strategy to mood management has worked wonders during the pandemic. Many people have harnessed the new age wisdom of ‘do something nice for yourself every day’ and many of these mood (re)setting treats have been eats. New innovations that inexpensively help people give themselves a treat every day are expected to continue to go down a treat for the foreseeable future. 

Interested in increasing your innovation capacity?

Prophet’s Experience & Innovation practice can help you to underpin a superior approach to innovation to help you realize your ambitions, get in touch here. 


From “phygital” to “surthrivalism,” the pandemic continues to unleash powerful–and business-changing–new perspectives. Develop a strategy to find those with the most potential for your brands.